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People's New Testament
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Chapter XI

Peter's Defence Before the Church at Jerusalem

SummaryPeter's Course at Cæsarea Called in Question. He Defends Himself by Relating His Vision. And the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles. The Church, Convinced, Glorify God. The Missionary Work of Those Scattered Abroad. The Conversion of Gentiles at Antioch. Barnabas Sent to Antioch by the Church. Saul Brought from Tarsus. Famine Predicted. Collections for the Relief of Jerusalem.

1, 2. They of the circumcision contended with him. The Jewish Christians, of whom the church at Jerusalem was entirely composed. The Gentiles of Cæsarea were the first uncircumcised persons admitted, the Samaritans being a circumcised people. The apostles and church generally seemed to understand that Jesus was the world's Savior, but thought that all who came to him must accept Judaism also and be circumcised before baptism. How deep-rooted their ideas were is shown by Peter's own case. It took (1) a vision, (2) the command of the Lord, (3) the call of Cornelius, and (4) the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, to remove his and his brethren's scruples about baptizing the Gentiles. It is, therefore, no wonder that his course was called in question.

3. Thou … didst eat with them. This was a positive violation, not of the laws of Moses, but of the rules of the orthodox Jews. Though Peter laid aside his Jewish exclusiveness at Cæsarea, he at least once afterwards relapsed (Gal. 2:12).

4–17. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning. Thus showing that he acted under the Divine orders. See notes in preceding chapter. These six brethren accompanied me. These were brethren of Joppa, but Peter had taken them to Jerusalem to confirm his words. He knew his course would be called into question. Whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. Note the import of these words of the angel to Cornelius: (1) Notwithstanding his prayers, alms, devotion, and justice, he was not yet saved. Only the gospel could save him. God's mercy was shown in bringing him the gospel. (2) This is the first instance named in Acts of a household baptism. Were there any infants? Who are meant is seen by reference to 10:24, “his kinsmen and near friends.” These “heard” (10:44), were baptized with the Holy Spirit, and baptized in water (10:47, 48). As on us at the beginning. Note that Peter compares the outpouring on the Gentiles with that of the day of Pentecost. He calls both instances “baptisms of the Holy Spirit.” Miraculous signs accompanied each instance. Have we a right to speak of a baptism of the Holy Spirit without such signs? The gift of the Holy Spirit with its fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23) is promised to every obedient believer, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit seems to have been extraordinary and special. Note also that Peter calls the Day of Pentecost the Beginning. The Beginning of what? Of the preaching of the New Covenant, of the Great Commission, of the conditions of the gospel under the reign of the exalted King and Savior, of the church of Christ on earth. What was I, that I could withstand God? All these extraordinary signs were then given in order to show Peter and the Jewish Christians that the Gentiles were also accepted.

18. They held their peace. Gave up the controversy. They were convinced by the account, and assured that “God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life;” i. e., had removed the barriers in the way of the Gentiles repenting and finding life through Christ.

19. Now they which were scattered abroad. See 8:5. Travelled as far as Phenice. Phoenicia. A long, fertile plain between the Lebanon mountains and the sea containing the famous cities of Tyre and Sidon. These preachers, perhaps, founded churches here, as we find them existing later (Acts 21:4; 27:3). Cyprus. The famous island in the Mediterranean. Antioch. The capital of the whole province of Syria, including Palestine, situated on the Orontes a short distance from the sea, at this time next after Rome and Alexandria of the cities of the world in greatness, commerce and wealth. It was cultured, luxurious and corrupt, a Greek civilization corrupted by the wealth and luxury of Asia; a sort of oriental Rome. Preaching … unto the Jews only. They departed before the Gentiles at Cæsarea were called to Christ.

20, 21. Cyrene. A great Grecian city of North Africa, with a large Jewish population. These preachers were Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene who had been converted at Jerusalem. Spake unto the Grecians. Greeks in the Revision. The preachers were “Grecians,” i. e., Hellenistic Jews (foreign Jews), but those to whom they spoke were Greeks, Gentiles, not of Jewish blood at all, I suppose “devout Greeks” who had turned from idols to seek the purer worship of Jehovah These preachers, without knowledge of the call of the Gentiles, led by the spirit of Christ, preached the gospel to these Gentile seekers for light, with the result that “a great multitude believed and turned to the Lord.”

22–24. Sent forth Barnabas. Barnabas was himself a Grecian Jew (Acts 4:36), also the friend of Saul, another Grecian Jew (Acts 9:27). He was chosen as a suitable man to go to Antioch and see whether there had been a real work of the Lord. When he had seen that it was the grace of the Lord, he rejoiced and gave it Godspeed, and the work grew more and more in this great metropolis. Note that this is the first church named outside the bounds of Palestine. It was to become the great missionary center for the conversion of the Gentile world.

25, 26. Departed to seek Saul. Seeing the great opening, he knew that Saul was the best man to aid him. His trip to Tarsus is supposed to have been in a.d. 43; Saul to have departed from Jerusalem in a.d. 39; hence to have spent about four years in missionary work in “Syria and Cilicia.” See notes on 9:30.] A whole year. a.d. 44; they continued the work with great success. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. The Jews called them “Nazarenes,” or “Galileans.” They called themselves “disciples,” “brethren,” “saints.” The new term was probably bestowed by the Gentiles in the great city, in default of any other name that seemed appropriate. Here was the first great Gentile church. Outsiders could see that they were not Jews nor pagans, hence they called them after their Lord, just as the first disciples of Plato were called Platonists, and those of Epicurus, Epicureans. The designation Christians occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16), and in both places its use is ascribed to those out of the church; yet it was accepted as honoring the Lord.

27, 28. In these days. While Saul was at Antioch. Came prophets. See note on 2:17. One of them named Agabus. Also named in 21:10. He had the prophetic gift. Should be a great dearth. A famine. Throughout all the world. This expression in the Scriptures often means the Jewish world. In the days of Claudius Cesar. Josephus (Antiquities, 20: 2, 6) describes a great famine that prevailed in Palestine in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, beginning about the close of a.d. 44, and lasting three or four years. Food had to be imported by the benevolent persons from Egypt and Cyprus, yet many perished.

29, 30. Then the disciples. Those at Antioch. They were informed that the famine would be very severe in Judea. Hence they contributed, each as he could, for the relief of their Jewish brethren, and sent it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. The love of Christ was in their hearts. We see here the dawn of that new spirit that was to revolutionize the Gentile world. The Gentiles of Antioch extend their hands to relieve the distress of the Jews of Palestine.

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